Compacts and Cosmetics: Beauty from Victorian Times to the Present Day – Madeleine Marsh

9 Apr

I wrote this review over on my book blog, Backlist Books, ages ago and it just occurred to me that y’all might be interested in it. So here ya go.

Back in the day (i.e. about 5 years ago) I took some Women’s Studies courses in college. One of the main things I learned that stuck with me was that the worse things are for society in general, the better they are for the relative status of women in that society. For example, during WWII men were overseas fighting and out of necessity, women took over many jobs that had previously been unavailable to them. This was a huge step in the history of women. Though after the war many women returned to the home and set about being wives and mothers, that experience wedged open a door that has since been flung open.

Madeleine Marsh is a historian, who specializes in antiques. She has an entire room that houses her vintage makeup collection – and she can tell you not only when each item was made and what it was used for, but how the cosmetics (or lack thereof) associated with each era reflected what society expected women to be during that time.

For me, it’s a fascinating read. I have been intrigued by cosmetics since I was quite young – not as a vain thing, more because of the artistic expression it allows, and the way it can transform someone’s appearance, and with it, who they are perceived to be.

The book itself is beautifully presented – it’s printed on glossy paper, and there are old advertisements and pictures of vintage cosmetics every page or two throughout the whole book so that readers can see what is being described.

It’s definitely a niche book that sits right on the intersection of history, Gender/Women’s Studies and an interest in cosmetics, so I certainly don’t think it’s for everyone. But if at least one of those topics is of interest to you (or all of them!) you won’t find a better read!

Bonus – here’s a video by Lisa Eldridge, makeup artist to the stars, in which she discusses the book – and has a tour of Madeleine Marsh’s collection! (It’s part one of two, so if you like it, click over to YouTube or her blog and watch the rest!)


4 Responses to “Compacts and Cosmetics: Beauty from Victorian Times to the Present Day – Madeleine Marsh”

  1. cathywil May 21, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

    Hi there, I just bought this book due to my interest in vintage compacts and makeup. It is very comprehensive & has wonderful information. If you’re interested in vintage compacts, you may like “Miller’s Powder Compacts”. It’s a slim volume, but very good & gives market value of the items cited.
    Thanks, Cathy

    • mlevnc May 21, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

      That sounds like a great read! I have added it to my list. Let me know what you think of Compacts and Cosmetics, and thanks so much for stopping by and for the recommendation!

      • cathywil May 22, 2013 at 1:31 am #

        The book I referred to that I just bought is Compacts and Cosmetics. See my first Comment for how much I’m enjoying it. BTW, you can find a short article on my blog about Vintage Compacts.

      • mlevnc May 22, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

        Oh, I got that – I just meant overall impression once you’ve finished it! At any rate, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the rest of it. Thanks for the referral – I’ll be sure to check it out.

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